Spelling still counts, but not as much as that

The Baltimore Sun

The journalism school at the University of North Carolina has dropped the spelling portion from its spelling-and-grammar test, replacing it with a word-usage section, and the howls are rising the journalism-isn't-what-it used-to-be crowd. 

You don't have to pass a spelling test! Nobody makes you count headlines by hand any more! Kids these days can't size a photo with a proportion wheel! Nobody can write legibly on hairy parchment today! &c. &c. 

For the record, you can go to JimRomenesko.com for a perfectly reasonable explanation of the change from Chris Roush of the journalism school. 

Some reflections:

Decades of experience with professional journalists whose attention to spelling is, to be charitable, casual suggest that the spelling tests of yore had little enduring effect. 

Today, any writer who does not make use of electronic spell-checking to detect misspellings, typos, and inconsistencies in proper names is a fool. And any writer who is not aware of the limitations of spell-check is doubly a fool. 

When I constructed The Sun's brutal applicant test, I discarded the spelling section from previous versions. You can easily check people's ability to spot typos and spelling errors by examining how they edit sample texts. It is more crucial to make sure that they can discriminate among homonyms (Look at all the people online who are advertising themselves as writing "tudors"), because spell-checking software won't help you much, or at all, with homonyms. 

The mechanics are important, and anyone seeking work as a copy editor, to the extent that there is any work for copy editors these days, had better be adept at spelling, with or without the spell-check function (but better with it). The work can't be done by machines. But for that reason, there are more important skills to be tested on.   


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